San Jose, California — Confrontational rhetoric that threatens the use of violence against police should be treated as a federal hate crime, insists the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Explicit threats of lethal violence by police against their critics, however, are considered an exercise in constitutionally protected free speech. This helps explain why the San Jose Police Department has reinstated Officer Philip White, who had been fired following a series of tweets threatening activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Threaten me or my family and I will use by God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopLivesMatter,” tweeted White last year, without explaining why he thought his life or that of his family was in any way threatened by critics of police abuse. There is nothing immoral or illegal about a police officer – or anybody else – publicly expressing the intention to use lethal force in self-defense or to protect his family. A second tweet demonstrated that White didn’t have self-defense in mind: “By the way if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives, matter, I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.”
White had been featured in news accounts for his role as a gang prevention officer in local schools. He had also engaged in online debates with people who had criticized the actions of what he clearly sees as his state-licensed gang. After his bellicose and threatening remarks became public, White was put on paid vacation from the department, followed by an Internal Affairs investigation that resulted in his termination. The Santa Clara DA’s office appropriately declined to file criminal charges because no specific individual was threatened.
Remarkably, the San Jose Police Officers’ Association condemned White’s statements, insisting that they had “no place in the public discourse surrounding the tragic loss of life from recent officer-involved incidents.”
After losing his job White appealed to an independent arbitrator, contending that termination was a disproportionate penalty in light of his length of service, lack of prior disciplinary actions, and a “perceived” threat to his family. With the help of attorney Michael Rains – a former police officer who specializes in defending abusive cops – White prevailed in arbitration.
The department “did not give enough thought to the context of the messaging and [White’s] unblemished record,” insists Rains. Some useful context for understanding Mr. Rains’ view of proportionality can be found in his reaction to the conviction of his client, BART Transit Officer Johannes Mehserle, for involuntary manslaughter in the shooting of Oscar Grant III. Mehserle, who shot the prone and unarmed man while trying to handcuff him, claimed to have mistaken his firearm for a taser. Following the conviction Rains continued to blame the victim, saying that Grant’s death was his own fault because he had been “resisting.” A state appellate court later ruled that Grant’s detention was “constitutionally unsound.”
Mehserle served less than a year of a two-year prison sentence. Rains successfully defended him after the killer cop was sued. Grant’s father, Oscar Grant, Jr.
“It is time to close the wounds this tragic incident has had on everyone involved, including Mehserle and his young family,” lectured Rains after the suit by the victim’s father was thrown out. “Five years of reliving this tragic night is enough suffering for everyone in the community and it’s time to heal and to put this behind us.”
That this was merely a gust of self-serving sanctimony is proven by the fact that Rains constantly relives that “tragic night” through highly lucrative seminars on “officer-involved shootings” he presents to police and other attorneys – occasionally joined by Mehserle himself.
“It is no small wonder that after hearing 3 ½ hours of the saga for [sic] former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, the audience stood, clapped, cheered, and some cried as Johannes made his way to the front of the room to join Mike on stage and talk about his own experience, and to thank those in the law enforcement community for their continuous and heartfelt support throughout the ordeal,” boasted an account of a typical seminar published by Rains’ law firm.
Rains does his considerable best to prevent any corrupt or abusive officer from enduring the “ordeal” of accountability – whether his means a suitable punishment for the unlawful killing of an innocent man, or being cashiered from the force after threatening lethal violence against police critics. The Fraternal Order of Police seeks to expand the doctrine of Blue Privilege by defining police officers as a “specially protected class” under federal law. The national police union is lobbying for legislation that would make it a federal hate crime for a citizen to violate the emotional “safe space” of one of his uniformed overseers.
An FOP-supported bill in Maryland that would likely serve as a model for federal legislation would make resisting arrest a “hate crime” owing to the identity of the supposed victim. State legislatures elsewhere are considering similar measures, and some municipal governments are enacting resolutions endorsing the FOP’s demand to swaddle police officers in federal “specially protected” status.
In a letter to President Obama, Chuck Canterbury, National President of the FOP, demanded that “the current Federal hate crimes law be expanded to include law enforcement officers. This call has gone unanswered and our nation’s law enforcement officers continue to die in the streets.”
Canterbury, like most in his chosen profession, thrives in a falsehood-rich environment, so his lie of omission – namely, that on-duty violent deaths of police officers were down in 2015 – was predictable.
Apparently without giving thought to what it says about the supposed valor of police officers, Canterbury demanded that cops be designated a “specially protected” group who are “hunted and targeted just because of the uniform they wear.”
Canterbury’s tales of insurgent criminals and intimidated cops segued into a demand that “hate speech” be treated as a federal offense.
“Elected officials are quick to console the families of the fallen and praise us for the difficult and dangerous work that we do every day,” sniffles the FOP commissar. “Yet, too many are silent when the hate speech floods the media with calls for violence against police or demands that police stand down and give them” – Canterbury never defines “them,” interestingly – “`room to destroy.’ The violence will not end until the rhetoric does which is why I have called on Congress and your Administration to work with us to address the surge of violence against police by expanding the Federal hate crimes law to protect police.” (Emphasis added.)
The objective here, once again, is to penalize rhetoric as a criminal act against a member of a specially protected class.
Under the standard of “law” demanded by the FOP, Officer White could freely promise to kill critics he perceives as a threat – but a mere Mundane (or common citizen) who reciprocated by promising to use defensive force would be subject to federal prosecution.